Meeting the Fox
endanger Allied operations in other parts of the world, crip- pling the American bombing offensive against Germany, just getting under way from bases in England, and drawing ships away from the fight against Japan in the Pacific.
Each of these was a major problem, but all paled in com- parison to that of the Vichy French presence in North Africa, with its colonies and protectorates stretching a thousand miles along the southern shore of the Mediterranean. The Americans wanted very much to avoid having to fight the French, not only for practical reasons but because of the emotional ties between the two countries. Those ties had been strong for more than a century and a half, since the Marquis de Lafayette came to help the colonies throw off British rule in the Revolutionary War. In 1917, when Americans landed in France to fight the Germans, an American officer proudly proclaimed: “Lafayette, we are here!” After World War I, many Americans studied at French military academies and became friends with their French counterparts.
Like it or not, though, the Americans were forced to think of the French in North Africa as the enemy, at least until the French proved themselves otherwise. The French had been humbled by the German blitzkrieg in 1940 and forced to surrender. The northern part of the country was occupied by the Germans while the southern portion and French possessions in Africa remained under the control of the puppet government set up in Vichy under Marshal Henri Pétain, the great French hero of World War I. Under the terms of the surrender, France retained its army and navy, including troops, ships, and aircraft in North Africa.
The Germans deliberately kept the French armed forces weak, denying them the opportunity to replace equipment lost in 1940 or buy modern arms. But the French forces in North Africa were still strong enough to cause sleepless nights for Allied planners. They had World War I–era tanks, a serious threat, if an obsolete one, until the Allies managed to get their own more modern ones ashore. French fighter planes would actually outnumber Allied aircraft until the Al- lies seized airfields ashore and flew in fighters from Gibral- tar. And French ships would be encountered at each of the major landing points—Casablanca, Oran, and Algiers—in-